Roberto Clemente is considered the best Latin American baseball player who has played in the Major Leagues. His offensive power was extraordinary and, thanks to this, he won four hitting titles in the Majors; in addition, he defended left field very well and that’s why he was awarded 12 times with the “Gold Glove”.
For 18 years, the Pittsburg Pirates’ number 21 marveled the baseball universe. The constant attacks from the press against him weren’t too important, because Clemente was outspoken and he criticized the discrimination against Latin Americans in the United States. In the night of December 31st 1972, Roberto decided to leave to Managua, Nicaragua’s capital, to take humanitarian aid to a town that had suffered a devastating earthquake, which provoked over 10 thousand deaths. Clemente’s airplane never got to its final destination, because it felt to the Caribbean Sea.
Clemente marked an era in the Major Leagues. His peculiar batting style and his formidable left field defense made him a sport idol, not only in Puerto Rico, where he was elected the 21st century’s athlete, but also in the entire Latin America; although the career of the “Carolina Comet”, as he was called, because that was his birth place, went through some complicated moments.
The Puerto Rican suffered discrimination for his skin color from very close, in a period in which, supposedly, the racial barrier was over in the Majors; however, racism persisted. His talkback attitude, defending Latin American baseball players, wasn’t well seen by some owners, directors and reporters; but he’s remembered today as one of the men who struggled the most for equal rights and opportunities for Latin American players.
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Clemente played his entire career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, in the National League. When he made his debut that was one of the most mediocre teams in the championship. In only six years, the Puerto Rican changed history and led the Pirates to the 1960 World Series title, when they defeated the New York Yankees, in seven challenges. Clemente was the leader, because he batted at least one hit in every meeting and ended with an average of 300, although he couldn’t connect any homerun.
Clemente’s second participation in the World Series was spectacular. In 1971, the Pirates faced the Baltimore Orioles and Clemente was unstoppable, by achieving an offensive average of 414. His team won the “Fall Classic”, in seven challenges, and the Major League’s chiefs determined, unanimously, he was the Series’ Most Valuable Player.
Clemente always wanted to keep his connection with Puerto Rico and that’s why he always tried to lay in the Winter League. In 1972, after batting his hit number 3000, in the last Majors regular season match, Roberto left to San Juan, with the goal of directing the national selection that would play in Nicaragua’s Amateur World Championship.
Things went well for Puerto Rico in that tournament, because of the 15 performed matches, the team won nine and finished in the sixth position. The competition ended on December 3rd and, twenty days later, an earthquake almost deleted Managua from the face of the Earth. There were 10 thousand dead people and thousands of injured ones. Once he knew the news, Clemente ask Puerto Ricans for help and, in a few days, prepared a shipment with several tons of food and medicine.
In December 31st 1972 everything was ready for the departure of the airplane DC7. The player insisted on personally deliver the content. His wife, Vera Zabala, begged him not to go into the plain and, with such a request, Clemente answered, “If you are going to die, you will die”.
At 9:23 in the evening, the DC7 in which the Puerto Rican star was traveling fell onto the water, because of the overweight. The rescue teams worked for some time, but they could just return to Zabala the carry-on bag that she prepared for her husband only a few hours before.
The brilliant baseball player’s disappearance shocked the baseball world. In 1973, exceptionally, Clemente was added to Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame and became the first Latin American who entered the called “Temple of Immortals”. Clemente’s numbers were formidable: in 18 seasons in the Majors, he averaged for 317, connected 240 homers and had 1305 Run Batted Ins; in addition, he won four times the National League hitting title, participated in 12 All-Star Games and received 12 Gold Gloves.
The very same day of his entry to Cooperstown, the Majors decided to create the “Roberto Clemente Award”, which is given every year to the baseball player that performs the most prominent work in sports and community. Puerto Ricans chose Roberto as their 21st century athlete and, 45 years after his disappearance in the Caribbean Sea waters, the memory of this great player is still alive.